Sunday, May 28, 2006

Neuropsychology text reviews

So, here I am again reviewing the textbooks for the Neuropsychology course. As usual, I elicited feedback from the students in my courses. There were four books assigned for this course:

Book 1:
D'Amato, R., Fletcher-Janzen, E., & Reynolds, C. (2005). Handbook of School Neuropsychology. Wiley Publishing.

The hype that this book produced has not been commesurate with my expectations nor those of my students' either. The table of contents is quite impressive, and there are some chapters which are quite interesting (look for the chapter written by Dean on the expansion of the CHC theory for use with neuropsychological issues).

However, there are many problems with this text. First and foremost, this is apparently a text for a second course in school neuropsychology, so many of the chapters are inaccessible to people not versed in neurological parlance and nomenclature. If this was the case, perhaps the editors may have wanted to name the text Advanced School Neuropsychology.

Here's where it gets to be a bit dicey: there is a large portion of the text which reviews major brain structures and functions. However, those chapters are bizarrely devoid of any illustrations or graphics. The editors should know that the reason that neuropsychology is not grasped well by many students is that it is, essentially, a Gv task, which requires the student to visually connect the dots before we can deal with the abstractions of the links between brain and behavior.

Furthermore, the field's methodology is also inductive in nature and is curiously opposite the deductive methodology we impound in students from the Research Methods and Design courses and on. Therefore, we need to take time to also introduce these traditions to our students. In reality, no neuropsychological textbook actually takes the time to introduce how the field thinks about thinking. Oftentimes, we sacrifice fundamental aspects of instruction for more content. I think that if we can spend more time teaching students how to think about neuropsychology (or any other topic in psychology for that matter), we will have students that will be able to access the logic of much research.

Overall, I was very dissappointed with this textbook. So were my students. On a scale of 1 - 10, they gave the text an overall average rating of a 6, and most students who responded to my survey that they were, at least 80% certain that they would sell the book back. When asked to indicate why they were likely to sell it back, they noted that it was too technical and too difficult to follow. Despite the attempts by the editors to include chapters on interventions for common school difficulties (e.g., ADHD), they were really not any different that the interventions noted in other standard texts and offered little unique insight which would merit this text a place on their shelves.

I, for one, will search for a new standard text for the school neuropsychology course.

Books 2 - 4:
Feifer, S.G. & DeFina, P.A. (????). The neuropsychology of reading disorders. Middletown, MD: School Neuropsych Press.

Feifer, S.G. & DeFina, P.A. (????) . The neuropsychology of written language disorders. Middletown, MD: School Neuropsych Press.

Feifer, S.G. & DeFina, P.A. (2005). The neuropsychology of mathematics. Middletown, MD: School Neuropsych Press.

So, I need to put a partial disclaimer on the following review, only because I know the second author and admire his style very much. Just a second to describe his teaching style, as he supervised me as part of a course for the School Neuropsychology Diplomate. Phil DeFina is brilliant and his understanding of the brain as well as how to instruct is unparalleled. His ability to present the brain as a functional unit is clearly lacking in other approaches (i.e., the way he taught it, I got it, and I was quickly able to apply it to my assessments and interventions). Then, as a school psychologist, he was accutely interested in aspects of brain functioning that clearly have to do with school issues.

Finally, the man does not simply instruct and supervise. He preaches the Gospel of School Neuropsychology. He is clearly a preferrable alternative to the boring lectures and presentations given by other psychology professors

I don't know Steven Feifer, but have heard that he is an equally brilliant school psychologist. Although I won't be around, he is presenting at Atlantic City this summer as part of a NASP Summer Conference. I would urge everyone in the field to see him.

His and Phil's books are absolutely excellent, quite possibly the undeserved secrets of the field. They present with a somewhat standard format, with theory interwoven with practice throughout. Their discussions of possible assessment techniques as well as intervention strategies and reviews of existing educational programs is brillian and well-thought out.

My students thought so as well. They appreciated that the review of the brain structures was kept to a minimum in initial chapters; instead they were taught in context. More importantly, the relationship between the brain, academic behavior, and potential disabilities was very clearly made. None of my students noted that they would look to re-sell this book, and everyone rated it as "easy to read", "clear" and "practical". These books are definitely worth buying.

A note on these books - if you order directly from the publisher, you can receive some sort of discount if you purchase all three books at once. It's worth it.

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